BEIJING -- The mayor of Tianjin, a former subordinate of Xi Jinping, has become the latest casualty of a widening anti-graft campaign as the Chinese president seeks to reinforce his position ahead of a reshuffling of top leadership at the autumn 2017 party congress.
Huang Xingguo is under investigation on suspicion of serious disciplinary violations, the party said Saturday. The probe is believed to relate to corruption and last summer's explosions at a Tianjin warehouse.
Huang, who is also Tianjin's acting Communist Party secretary, worked under Xi during the latter's tenure as party chief of Zhejiang Province. Huang was among the first regional leaders to pledge his loyalty to Xi in January as the party's "core" leader.
Chinese leaders and elder statesmen meet each year in early August in the summer resort of Beidaihe. This year's meeting saw fierce debate over political appointments, a party source said. The investigation of Huang was apparently settled on there.
The post of Tianjin's party chief has been vacant for some time. Huang's fall from grace leaves the city in the unusual position of lacking both a mayor and a party leader. The party chief position is customarily given to an official ranked at least 25th in the Politburo hierarchy. Names bandied about by foreign media include an official with close ties to Xi, and an aide to Premier Li Keqiang.
In late August, Chen Quanguo, then Tibet's party chief, was tapped as party leader of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region -- another post that usually goes to Politburo members. Chen worked in Henan Province when it was run by Li. Meanwhile, former subordinates of Xi were chosen to head Jiangsu and Hunan provinces, replacing predecessors with close ties to Vice President Li Yuanchao. Li hails from the Communist Youth League faction, which Xi has clashed with of late.
China watchers are awaiting the Central Committee's sixth plenum, coming up in October, to get a sense of the state of the party's internal politics. Proposed party rule changes that would put more power in Xi's hands are meeting with widespread opposition. The final decision on these revisions will do much to determine whether Xi can maintain his position as the party's undisputed No. 1. Many observers expect more regional leadership appointments around the time of the plenum.
Xi has used his anti-graft campaign to strengthen his grip on power within the party. Though he initially targeted mainly officials with connections to former President Jiang Zemin, the crusade has since expanded to encompass figures from the Communist Youth League faction, fueling a louder outcry. Xi's use of censorship and other heavy-handed measures is also alienating intellectuals. The president faces his first hurdle in the run-up to the party congress.